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Retreat on the Credo
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
It seems appropriate to look to making some useful resolutions. In fact, as St. Ignatius understood the Spiritual Exercises they were either to end with some definite resolutions or a person had not really made I don't say a good retreat but a retreat. The purpose of looking back, implied in the word retreat in order to look forward, implied in the word resolution.
What is a resolution? Why make resolutions? How to make good resolutions? What is a resolution? A resolution is a firm act of the will to do God's will in the future. It is a firm act of the will to do God's will in the future. I then set myself, implied in making a firm act of the will, to do what I believe will be at least pleasing to God, and at the end of a retreat what will be more pleasing to God. I think it bears a little emphasis to point out that our acts of the will are not only to chose to do good and avoid evil; that's obligation; to that every human being is bound. We also are to make acts of the will to do things that are better and more pleasing to God and not only avoid evil and not commit sin.
Immediately we see that a resolution differs - although the words are often used interchangeably - a resolution differs from a decision. When I decide on something that's a judgment I make with my mind. When I resolve on something, this is done with my free will. And if we point to our head when we decide, we should point to our heart when we resolve. A lot of people make all kinds of decisions, but they don't make resolutions. Of course a good resolution should always be based on an intelligent decision. There are the opposite kind of people too, making resolutions every hour on the hour. No lack of good will but a lack of good judgment.
It is then only when I freely choose to do something on which I have decided that I am said to make a good and intelligent resolution. That's why a young couple have a courtship, so both he and she might make a good decision, then on the wedding day make a resolution. That's why in religious communities there is a period that we call probation. Mother Teresa calls it "Come and See." After you have come and seen and you like it and you seem to qualify then you become an aspirant; then if you still like and they like you, you become a postulant, then still later a novice, then you take your first vows which implies others will follow. The more serious the resolution the more careful should be the decision. Now resolution is the climax of decision. It is God's will that we both make wise decisions and firm resolutions, because we are to serve God with our minds - that's decision and our wills - that's resolution.
Why make resolutions? You might say it's just good common sense. Where would the world be unless people made resolutions? One reason for the criminal tragedy of abortion is that women decide to become pregnant, no doubt in many cases unwisely, then resolve to kill the unborn child. We never thought that our being in the world today is a resolution that our mothers made to bring us into the world. And perhaps one of the saddest features of modern society is that so many people are either not making resolutions or not making them wisely or making them and then breaking them. The essence of stable society is people who make firm resolutions.
Once we turn to the word of God we find the value of making resolutions on almost every page of the gospels. Time and again the Savior told His disciples and through them is telling us to follow Him. "Come to Me." He called the apostles, He calls everyone, "Come, follow Me." What is this coming to Christ mean if not resolving to follow Him wherever He wants us to go and do whatever He tells us to do? Christ called Peter and James and John; they resolved to follow Him. And just to dramatize the fact and point out the contrast between being called and following, between being offered the opportunity and embracing it, we have the dramatic episode of the rich young man as related by Matthew. He was called, he didn't follow; in other words, he did not make a resolution. And saddest of all, among the twelve called by the Master was Judas. Only God knows what happened. Either he never made a resolution or having made it he broke it and so betrayed Jesus.
Christ could be gentle: He took children into His arms, He consoled the sinful woman, He wept over the grave of Lazarus. But Christ could also be very condemnatory and when Christ condemned it was condemnation indeed. The strongest words in the gospel of Christ condemning anyone is the one who having put his hand to the plough turns back. And later on, in what is often called the fifth gospel - John's Apocalypse - the Book of Revelation, dictated almost throughout by the then glorified Jesus to His beloved disciple, what John saw in revelation and heard from the risen Savior. Remember those awful words? "Would that you were hot or cold, but because you are lukewarm I have vomited you from my mouth."
Resolutions are part of our faith, in fact they are the principal reason for our faith to decide with our minds, resolve with our wills and then remain firm. And how desperately today's world needs the witness of firm resolved people in every state of life - bishops, priests, religious, married people.
We finally ask ourselves: How to make good resolutions? I'd like to make three recommendations. No two people have either the same need or the same problem. I suggest that our resolution should be made prudently, prayerfully and practically. First prudently. No two of us have the same needs for the obvious reason that no two of us are the same person. All of us have the seven capital tendency: all of us are prone to pride, lust, anger, covetousness, envy, sloth and gluttony. Some have more of a tendency to pride than others, some more to lust than others, but as I never tire telling people, we all have a congenital tendency to laziness especially spiritual sloth.
So I ask myself: What is my dominate failing? If we are honest it should be no great secret. What are the sins I'm confessing week after week? What are the weaknesses of character that were brought to my attention way back when in childhood? I recommend to make prudent resolutions to do some thinking and some writing. It's remarkable how many things we put down in writing except the most important things - our spiritual lives.
Secondly, we should make our resolutions prayerfully. By now we know, and it's become a standing joke, except it's a tragic joke, that for many people resolutions are made to be broken. We should ask God to enlighten us, because of ourselves we do not know. We should ask God for the strength we need not to make a resolution lightly and having made it to keep it.
Finally, to make good resolutions they should be made practically. The hardest thing for most of us is to be really honest. We can choose and pick all sorts of things that we obviously need to work on, but surprisingly we outwit ourselves by say concentrating on humility. Well, anyone who knows me will tell me what I need is not more humility but more charity. Or what I need is to be more mortified. I read the lives of the saints, I see what penances they practiced; I've got to do more penance. Anyone who knows me knows I don't need more penance, I need more industry, more diligence; I'm lazy. So I console myself with all the fasting I've done, how holy I must be getting, and all the while not be moving those muscles that should be moved to do the work that should be done.
Father Daniel Lord tells the story of a priest who one winter night went on an emergency sick call. To save time he walked through back alleys. On his way back to the rectory he was held up. The thief proceeded to empty the priest of all his valuables. In the process the thief saw the Roman collar, "Father, my apologies. I never rob priests." So he proceeded to return all the belongings to the priest, and as a gesture of goodwill the priest handed the thief a cigar. The thief looked at it and said, "Sorry, Father, I gave up smoking for Lent." Father Lord says that is a true story.
The practicality therefore should first of all mean that what I resolve to do or resolve no longer to do what has been a source of great annoyance to others since childhood. There are three kinds of practical resolutions we should be constantly looking to and if need be remaking. Those in our relationship with God, those in our relationship with ourselves and those dealing with our relationship towards others.
My relationship with God. The most important purpose in my life is to be united with God. Prayer is the highest function of the human will, it is the main purpose for human existence: the main reason that God created us is that we might honor and praise Him in prayer. But if I'm going to be practical about my resolution to pray I must use the proper means. Either I resolve to keep creatures unnecessarily off my mind or I will never have God on my mind, and without God on my mind I will never have Him in my heart; in other words, I will never pray. A cluttered mind is a prayerless heart. And what junk we can have on our minds.
In our relationship to ourselves there are a thousand things we need; I know of none more important and more universal: one of our gravest obligations is to be in peace. Christ could not have been more emphatic. Peace was the opening message of the angels when Christ was born and peace was the first commandment of Christ's on Easter night. In God's name, He told His disciples and is telling us, peace. How well I know the amount of self-control that calls for, the trust in God it requires, the reliance on His providence. Peace of heart: that there is no conflict between me and the God Who made me. But I will be only as peaceful as I am resigned to God's will.
Finally, for all of us we need this: to look to our practice of charity. The reason why God put other people into our lives is that we might love them. And you don't love everybody by hugging them. We love people by striving to meet their needs. Lonely people need company. Fearful people need encouragement. Sorrowing people need to be comforted. Only in heaven will we know how many people in our lives need what we could give them and we were so selfishly preoccupied with ourselves that we failed to give them what they needed.
Let's ask our Savior first to know with our minds what He wants us to do, and then resolve to do it, and then not change our resolution. Heaven belongs to those who have made firm resolutions and kept them.
Conference transcription from a retreat
Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica
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